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KoM Does Ascalonian Catacombs

September 10, 2012

Last Saturday night, the stars must have aligned because I finally managed to cobble a Guild Wars 2 group together for Knights of Mercy’s first completed run of Ascalonian Catacombs. Ultimately we had one level 80 (Kahill), one 60ish (Bippa), one 40ish (Kriin), and two 35s (myself and the mister) but in keeping with the game’s philosophy of level and adjustment we were all scaled down to the story-mode dungeon’s appropriate level of 30.

Before I begin, I want to separate and make a distinction between the overall experience I had (it was a blast!) from my thoughts and opinions of the actual instance itself (on this matter I have a lot on my mind).

I’ll just start by saying this — whether you will enjoy AC (or I guess GW2 instances by extension) will be heavily dependent upon your personality type and on the reasons why you choose to do group instanced content. If you like the traditional order and planning that goes into an instance run, can appreciate the beauty of everything running smoothly like a well-oiled machine and the myriad steps coming together just perfectly to culminate into success…well then, you’ll probably find GW2’s instances lacking. In contrast, if you’re the more laid back type, enjoy working creatively with others, are less achievement-driven and don’t mind too much the occasional randomness or when things get chaotic…you’ll love it.

Myself, I think I fall right smack in the middle of these two extremes, which is why I’m not surprised I came out of AC with mixed feelings. As someone used to playing support roles like healers and tanks, I have to say the experience distressed me — but not for the reasons you would think. In fact, I initially thought that getting used to not being part of a trinity would be a problem for me, but here I surprised myself because in reality, moving past that was so very easy.

Yes, in most games I’m usually a healer and more often the tank — but do you know why? It’s certainly not because I particularly relish the role of being the meatshield and taking damage for others, and I was actually more than happy to shed that responsibility. While I like playing support roles, they’re definitely not as fun as being DPS and being able to pew-pew-pew-pew-pew to your heart’s desire. Plus, as any experienced tank or healer will tell you, sometimes it’s stressful as HELL. But I do it anyway, because what I really love is helping others. As in having the ability to keep others, especially my friends, alive.

Now I’m not saying you don’t have that kind of dynamic in GW2 groups, because if anything, you’ll find that pretty much everything you do will be helpful to your party, just in more subtle ways. The only difference is, there will be nothing like an “oh-shit heal” or “snap aggro” to save the day. Chances are, you will be watching your fellow friends and adventurers fall to defeat like flies around you, time and time again. In the end, it was this nagging guilt I ultimately found to be the most distressing, because I am used to being able to “rescue” others, not because I missed not having a role.

Fallen.

The good news is, I got over it quick. I had no choice, because the truth is, you will probably die in AC. Not only that, you will probably die a lot. You get used to it, and that’s just the truth of it. In fact, I see many indications that this is actually meant to happen, which I will go into later.

Like so many aspects of GW2, when it comes to the matter of difficulty, the first instance also serves to illustrate an example of yet another duality — in some ways it’s so easy, in other ways it’s so hard. Initial trash mobs actually gave us more trouble than two of the bosses, namely Master Ranger Nente and Kasha Blackblood, as we took both of them down first try without anyone being defeated. Other encounters, like the lovers Ralena and Vassar required our group getting a little creative. Having no tanks and aggro in this game, we instead relied on knockbacks, roots and boulders to separate them and keep them apart.

King Adelbern was another story. There really is no other way to put it, he was a bitch of a fight. We fell to the final boss again and again and again. And yet, there was actually never any uncertainty that he was going to go down and we were going to come away with a dead, grumpy ghost at our feet. Not once did we ever have to stop and say to each other, “Oh crap, guys, there’s a real possibility that we might not be able to do this,” the reason being a waypoint located a mere hop-and-a-skip away from the encounter. Yes, during the fight it’s best to try and stay alive, but if defeated, continuing the fight involved no more than warping back up and running back in again.

Once again, I thought I was going to hate this aspect of GW2’s dungeon fights, but in the end I found myself strangely fine with it. As one of my guildies said, “EMBRACE THE ZERG!” That became my mantra. Not only that, these instances were tested extensively and I have faith in ArenaNet’s competence that I do not doubt that the encounter would have been what it was if they hadn’t intended for things to be like this. I truly believe everything is the way it is for a reason.

I have some thoughts as to what those reasons might be, of course. For one thing, taking the away the “fear of wiping” allows the group to become more confident in experimenting with their abilities — an important effect, considering this is story-mode in a starter instance. With experience, I’m sure the reliance on zerging will go away, but at this point, without that threat of failure looming over our heads it was amazing how much of the pressure was lifted. It made us more relaxed and apt to get creative, encouraging everyone to look around and try to string combos with our fellow group members.

Speaking of combos, all I have to say is: learn them, try to remember them. After Kahill primed our group on combos, we all took a moment to inform each other of our builds and skills, as well as learn how to recognize what to watch for from others and how to follow up with our own set of abilities. I won’t go as far as to say combos will make the instance easier, because with constant movement, issues with positioning, and just in general random unforeseen circumstances happening all around you (not to mention that most combo effect durations are very brief), chances are you won’t be able to pull off most of the ones you attempt. But, it does make things infinitely more fun!

Utilizing combo fields.

So that’s what I was doing during the last fight when we weren’t worrying over wiping or failing — experimenting, getting creative, messing about, thinking, observing, learning. Admittedly, it does take the fun of organization and execution out of group play, but then again, the type of freedom I just described would not have been possible in a million years if the encounter had been designed any other way. At one point, Blue Kae (Kriin) mentioned that the fights actually reminded him of those from Champions Online, and I have to agree. That was another MMO which allowed you to embrace “the self” and superhero-dom, relying more on simply letting you enjoy your own skills, and less on adapting them to roles.

That said, I shudder to think what my experience in AC would have been like if I had been with a PuG. At least in this learning phase, I highly recommend going with a guild group or people you know (but then again, I advocate that for all group content anyway, regardless of game/instance/experience!) because the more you communicate and learn your own and each others’ play styles, the easier and more predictable things will get, not to mention the many more opportunities you will get to synergize. It’s much better than trying to second guess or anticipate a stranger’s actions every time.

Ultimately, my AC run with my guild has been an eye-opener. There were aspects of it that pleased me greatly but at the same time things that irked me to no end. Going back to what I said at the beginning of this article, how you personally feel about them will depend on who you are. I for one would not get too hung up on people’s claims of what GW2 did “right” or what they did “wrong” when it comes to their instances. To me, that’s akin to debating what thunderstorms do right, or what the color red does right, or what the taste of pickles does right. GW2 dungeons are different, but they are what they are.

I also meant it when I said that I believe everything is the way it is for a reason. Whether you like them or not is going to come down to taste, which is as personal as whether you like piña coladas or getting caught in the rain (and in case you’re wondering, I think piña coladas are too sweet, though I don’t mind getting caught in the rain. It’s incidentally why I also like thunderstorms, though I am ambivalent towards the color red. Pickles, on the other hand, I happen hate hate hate hate hate hate HATE the taste of them).

If you’ve stuck around this long and are still reading, I just have one final thing to say: if you find yourself heading into AC for the first time, the best advice I can give, and that I personally followed, is: 1) play with friends! 2) stay flexible and keep and open mind! 3) Just sit back and enjoy this gripping tale about a fallen city — being a fan of the Ghosts of Ascalon novel, being able to stand amidst the ruins of this significant place was especially poignant. Do all this, and it won’t really matter how you feel about the instance or its fight mechanics or its design and all that crap…because you will be having too much fun to care.

Group shot.

17 comments

  1. How in the world can you hate pickles???!!! Dill is Divine! :)

    Is AC the first group instance? Lvl 30? I thought I saw one near the end of my Sylvari starting area … around lvl 16-18? Or maybe it was actually a waypoint into another area of the game?

    In any case, I agree that not being able to focus on “healing” is going to be a real shock to my system. My friends always told me I was the best healer they ever played with (they obviously don’t get out much). Like yourself, I enjoy being able to keep others alive, and focusing on health bars is something that I don’t have issues with due to my color vision deficiency (reds/greens). I am looking forward to the challenge.


    • Ugh, pickles are gross! When I was a kid I used to pick them off my burgers and chuck them up to make them stick on the ceilings. Yeah, you couldn’t take me anywhere!

      AC is the first five-person group instance, it is located in the Charr starting area, so maybe the one you saw in the Sylvari zone could be something like that too.

      I bet you are an awesome healer :) And yes, I know some people who actually very much enjoy watching health bars (it’s almost cathartic to them) and they are now getting used to GW2’s mechanics.


  2. Sctz and I had to zerg fight some Klingons in her very first mission, the Azura. I’d brought along my lowbie cruiser, though it was decked out with higher level weaponry and such.

    The lack of strong heals has gotten me reeling in PvP; I attempted a healing build on my Elementalist only to quickly switch to a crit oriented build. I’m still not sure about it. In general, I’m usually in a little over my head with him.


    • I’ve found that while heals can be powerful, depending on the situation they’re just not always that helpful. It becomes a judgment call at times, whether or not you think it’s worth bringing a heal build anymore, or do you think you’ll contribute more with a more damage oriented build, etc. I like the fact that this game even gives players the opportunity to ask that question and decide for themselves.


  3. @Adaram, at least some of the instances are in lower level areas – AC is level 30 (for story mode) but is located in Charr starting area.


  4. Wow, Kahill is level 80 already…color me surprised! LOL


    • Yeah he was the first to 80. It’s like deja vu, isn’t it? ;)


  5. What would your suggestion be on finding a guild? My husband and I have always tended to make our own little guild for ourselves, but we thought it might be a good idea to join a bigger guild this time instead – however, none of our friends are on our server and none of the people on the websites we frequent seem to be playing. What advice would you give on how to find a good guild?


    • We have a bunch of “couples” in our guild. Not all are playing in GW2, but it’s nice to play with other couples (so I am told–my wife doesn’t play). I would search for a Guild that has couples in it, and advertises that fact. It just seems that would make it a natural fit.


    • If you have friends on other servers, I would take advantage of the free transfers they have going on now while the game is still new and they are allowing populations to settle while players find a good fit for their home servers. I highly recommend joining your friends, the social aspect makes GW2 so much better!

      In GW2 you can also belong in multiple guilds, and play with people across servers too. There are certain restrictions, like WvWvW where you have to represent your home server, but this system does not restrict you so much from playing with friends.

      If you plan on looking for a guild on your own server, I would first determine your own gaming styles, decide on what you want out of the game, and then look for friendly guilds that are recruiting. There are usually guilds advertising on forums, as well as in game.


      • I have been taking a bit of a look. I think for the post part, we’re interested in Casual PvX – maybe on one character I’ll look into casual RP.

        I’ll keep a look out for adverts in game as well, see if any of them tickle my fancy.


  6. It kinda bothers me there’s not much I can do with others. I can do the occassional group heal whilst doing fairly good aoe damage and I can keep regeneration on people a lot… but geez, it’s hard enough to save myself a lot.

    I didn’t get a proper run through of AC when I tried it with guildies. We had one person had to leave and thanks to the bug we couldn’t replace him. So we 4 manned it up to Ralena and Vassar. We found the bosses a heck of a lot easier than the trash. Right before Ralena and Vassar, the 4th person dc’ed so he couldn’t get back in. It took us 3 tries and A LOT of running back from the waypoint, but we actually got them down. We did King Adelbern first go and found him to be really easy. I find it interesting to hear this tripped up your group!

    I’ve only done this dungeon so I can’t judge properly, but for it, I find the bosses were okay difficulty. It was also much easier to see their attacks and potentially avoid them. But the trash…I really wish they’d nerf it. I had no clue how to avoid not being pwnd in 2 seconds.


    • Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. The game encourages each person to really look out for themselves as well, so the problem is, sometimes you get a stroke of bad luck, like when the majority of your group gets hit by like a huge aoe or something. Good aoe heals, regen, damage aside, I find in those situations there’s really nothing you can do about it :P

      And funny about Adelbern! I wonder if much of your group was ranged? We had a couple melee/half melee people, and running out of his damage field was sometimes hit or miss! And I agree about the trash too. They were much more brutal than the bosses, especially some of their randomly placed aoe attacks. It was funny because sometimes we’d dodge out of one, just to land in another one that wasn’t there a second before and go down, LOL.


      • Yeah the randomness of the huge one-shots isn’t so fun. :P I know I’m supposed to be able to avoid that, but with all the flashing of skills and combos, it’s hard to see!

        Yeah, the 3 of us that took on Adelbern were ranged: me on necromancer, my boyfriend on elementalist and a friend on mesmer. I’ve noticed this game doesn’t seem to be melee friendly… and honestly I feel like my necromancer is stronger than my warrior, though granted my warrior is a lower level.

        I did the lvl40 instance last night and it was MUCH easier. I hope you get to try that one soon as for me it was a much more enjoyable experience. :)


  7. Nice to hear about the AC run as I guess that what they call it. I actually remember now on last Saturday a few of you all were in some Instance so i guess that what it was then. Ha, i was probably running around Queensdale trying to make some headway progress on my Guardian, its slow going but enjoyable and fun.

    As someone that has played a tank for what seem like forever because I enjoy defending my friends and more than enjoy it, I can clearly understand the feeling you can get when you see someone else go down and not much you can do about it or have prevented it. As it relates to GW2 you just adapt to how the world operates and that is more so without no clear roles like in the Trinity in other games. In a way as someone thats always openminded I’m looking forward to see just how this work in group content at some point. Yet i’ve clearly gotten some hints of it just leveling and doing dynamic events when what seem like a very hard dynamic content boss appears and i have times where i know I have to dodge and fast roll out of melee/attack range to get a break to regain some health before I take a dirt nap. So i can only imagine how it must be in a instance. Organized Chaos!

    “Ultimately, my AC run with my guild has been an eye-opener. There were aspects of it that pleased me greatly but at the same time things that irked me to no end”. I guess be good to have a blog post on that and more in the sense to why it was such an eye opener as someone that has had a bit of time playing the game and in Beta.


    • Yep, Saturday, that was when we went. I saw on twitter that you’re almost to 30 yourself, maybe we can fit in a run one of these days :)

      Organized chaos sounds about right!


  8. “you’re the more laid back type, enjoy working creatively with others, are less achievement-driven and don’t mind too much the occasional randomness or when things get chaotic”

    This is me to a T, which is probably why I had so much fun. I’m curious now that you’ve gone through a second time if or how much your opinions have changed.



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